Two Bonfield board meetings drew the attention of Paul Dubé, the Ontario Ombudsman, who investigated after receiving a complaint alleging the board had met electronically without broadcasting the meeting to the public.
The complaints specified the May 12 and June 9 meetings from 2020.
Under the Municipalities Act, all meetings of council, local councils and committees of council must be open to the public. During Covid, many municipalities fulfilled this obligation by providing live video or audio streams of their meetings.
On October 19, 2020, the ombudsman opened the investigation into the complaint and city staff told the ombudsman that part of the May 12 meeting was not captured due to an error. technique concerning the video.
This was the township’s first electronic meeting, and portions of that meeting that were recorded have since been posted on its YouTube channel.
The ombudsman also noted that for the special council meeting on May 12, “no location was listed on the agenda” which was expected as it was an online meeting, however. , “No instructions on how the public might access or observe the meeting were included.
The same complaint concerned the June 9 meeting.
A regular board meeting followed the special meeting, and for both, “the minutes reflect only resolutions passed by the board” at those meetings, “and do not reflect matters discussed at the meeting.”
Audio from the June 9 meeting was supposed to be broadcast, but township chief executive Peter Johnston later learned “that didn’t happen,” the report said.
“The mayor and the director general told us that there was no intention to exclude the public from these meetings,” said the Ombudsman, adding that since June 9, all meetings “are accessible to the public” via a live broadcast on YouTube.
Even more, a teleconference option is available for those who do not have the ability to stream the videos.
“I recognize that municipalities have faced unprecedented challenges in adapting their operations during the Covid-19 pandemic,” explains the ombudsman’s report.
Nonetheless, the ombudsperson reminded the council that the Supreme Court of Canada has established “the right to observe current municipal government,” meaning live broadcasts if in-person viewing is not permitted.
Thus, these meetings of May 12 and June 9, which were not “made available to the public in real time”, were “closed contrary to the open meeting rules of the Municipal Act”, concludes the report.
The ombudsman made some recommendations to the township, mainly that the council “should be vigilant in respecting the individual and collective obligation” to ensure compliance with the Municipalities Act.
Bonfield should also “ensure that meeting minutes reflect all board deliberations, including matters discussed and resolutions considered” at every meeting.
In addition, the ombudsman suggested that the township update its rules of procedure “to reflect all exceptions to the rules for open meetings” set out in the Municipalities Act, in order to avoid future misunderstandings.
Throughout the investigation, “my office received the full cooperation” of Bonfield’s board and staff, Dubé said.
“We will do our best to comply,” said Mayor Randy McLaren.